Heather Sheldon: Wants range of opportunities in Amherst

Thursday, February 22, 2018
Wants range of opportunities

Amherst is great a place to live, but this is no time to rest on our laurels. Our community faces significant challenges: addressing our deteriorated infrastructure (school buildings, Department of Public Works, fire station and library), preparing for a post-fossil fuel economy and reducing our high tax burden, among others.

These challenges will require tough choices and they shouldn’t be made without the input of the full citizenry. Those with the loudest voices and time to show up at every meeting in town deserve to be heard, but so do the rest of us.

I support the proposed new charter for Amherst because it will give the thousands of us who are not able to be Town Meeting members a seat at the table. This will be done through the ballot box.

Right now, we have no campaigns for the majority of our elected “representatives.” In Precinct 5 last year, I was able to find next to no information about the views of most of the Town Meeting candidates I was to vote for, making it impossible for me to select candidates who would advocate for those issues I cared about — essentially silencing my vote by making it arbitrary.

And just as importantly, there were only nine candidates for the eight available seats. After significant effort to research the candidates, the thought occurred to me, “Why am I bothering? My vote doesn’t matter anyway.” It is no wonder that Amherst has abysmal voter turnout, even below our very concerning national average of abysmal voter turnout.

Under our new charter, Town Council candidates will run in competitive elections with active campaigns that allow voters to assess the fitness and views of candidates. Once in office, the councilors will be forced to talk about the reasons they vote one way over another, as our new council will meet regularly and each councilor will have ample opportunity to speak. No longer will those who “represent” us be able to hide in the Town Meeting crowd and deliberate in secret. All this will allow me to make meaningful choices at the ballot box.

I want there to be a range of opportunities for direct participation in town government so that whatever my interest and ability to participate, I can be heard. Representative Town Meeting does not provide this range of opportunities.

Heather Sheldon